"This is the story of Planet 8 of the Canopean Empire, a prosperous and contented little planet inhabited by handsome, vibrant, intelligent people, as told to us by one of the planet's fifty Representatives. Planet 8 is verdant and peaceful, its well-being secure, its weather consistently nurturing, never harsh. The people live long, fruitful lives, each on assuming a role essential to the continuity of the race. There is no crime, no strife, and no doubt. The people understand - almost inherently - that the benevolent Canopean rule they live under is based on necessity, and that they play a part in "a long, slow progress upwards in civilisation."
Until: the time of The Ice begins, the alignments of the planet shift, ice and snow come to cover its surface, and the people are forced to alter their lives in previously unthinkable ways. What keep them going - as they watch their crops and animals die off, as they are forced inside layers of clothing and crass shelter, as their lives wind down to little more than numbing sleep - is the promise made by Canopus that, in time, they will be taken off Planet 8 to Rohanda, the favored planet of the Empire. But the ice continues to thicken, morale and hope decline to a state of virtual nonexistence, and when the Canopean ambassador, Johor, finally arrives, the people are hardly surprised that he brings only devastating news: Rohanda is no longer fit to receive them, and they are destined to perish with their planet.
But what, at first, they do not realize they are capable of, and what they eventually accomplish through Johor's patient, empathic instruction, is the forging from themselves of one Representative who is both one and many, who is able to rescue from the doomed planet that which can and must be saved: their essential selves. Ultimately, the people of Planet 8 are able to transcend the grim, unbearably sad trappings of their corporeal lives to an understanding of the real "dance and dazzle" of their existence.
In this volume of the Canopus series, Doris Lessing gives us a microcosm of our emotional - our metaphysical - universe. Hers is a frightening, yet, finally a consummately hopeful vision, a profound novelist's contribution to the questions that are being asked so frequently and restlessly by scientists in that recently discovered area where the new physics meets traditional mysticism."